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"Healing From/By/For"

I don’t know for sure what Peter’s mother-in-law was thinking as she lay there, but illness and injury have a way of throwing us for a loop, calling into question our future and even our identity.


“Christ Healing Peter's Mother-in-Law” by Rembrandt
“Christ Healing Peter's Mother-in-Law” by Rembrandt

Mark 1:29-39

February 4, 2024

Dr. Todd R. Wright


Lawrence Woods is just stating the obvious when he writes: “No one knows her name. [Peter’s mother-in-law] may have been widowed, for she lived with two younger men who were not her sons. Their boyish enthusiasms might have made her laugh. Very likely she worked hard at chopping firewood and salting fish, helping to feed the household, watching [any] grandchildren. But one day she could do none of that, for she was sick in bed with a fever. [Without even aspirin,] her daughter would have been nearby, applying a damp cloth to her forehead.”[2]


A fever was no small thing in the ancient world, before antibiotics. It could have indicated something more serious, something fatal! (Remember when fever was one of the first signs that you had COVID, and how some folks, especially older people and those with compromised immunity, ended up in the hospital, on ventilators, separated from the family members?)


Her fever was serious. It would have left her dehydrated and as weak as a kitten; it might have made her delirious; and it certainly would have kept her from her normal tasks.


One scholar writes, “It’s worth recalling how illness not only debilitates the body, it also can cut a person off from his or her social life and contributions to community — and this can feel like a loss of dignity or purpose.”[3] Who was this woman if she couldn’t do what gave her life meaning?


 

Kaci Bolls sings of another nameless woman:


“She's always been somebody's somethin’

She's been everything but alone

A daughter, a lover, a wife, and a mother

She's lived every life but her own

She'd say, "That's just called being a woman”

She's always been somebody's somethin’”


It’s a closing-of-the-books kind of chorus, but then Bolls adds:


“She wonders what it might be like to be somebody else

She wonders what it'd feel like to be free

When she tries to imagine being nobody's nothin’

That's someone she'd never want to be.”[4]


 

I don’t know for sure what Peter’s mother-in-law was thinking as she lay there, but illness and injury have a way of throwing us for a loop, calling into question our future and even our identity.


I listened to an interview this past week with John Scheyer, the current basketball coach at Duke. As a player, he guided them to a national championship in 2010.


This is how he remembers what happened next:


“I was playing summer league with the Miami Heat and right before the first game that I played, that’s when LeBron James came out and said, I’m taking my talents to South Beach. Okay. Chris Bosh said he was signing with Miami. Dwayne Wade [was already there]. And I go from finishing up at Duke to thinking I’m going to be teammates with LeBron and win five championships! In the first game of summer league, I hit the game-winning shot. The second game I got poked in the eye. I had an optic nerve injury and lost all my vision immediately in my right eye. I flew back to Chicago [and] saw a specialist, who told me I probably won’t be able to play the game that I love, again.”[5]


Can you imagine? Who is John Scheyer if he can’t play basketball? What’s his purpose?


He was in desperate need of healing, body and soul.


Some of you have been in that same position – just like him, just like Peter’s mother-in-law.


Medicine had a roll to play, eventually, but in that moment Scheyer needed something else.


He says, “The thing that kept it together for me was the amazing support that I had. There was a guy, Terry Kim, an amazing eye doctor at Duke. And Terry was on me every step of the way. Coach K, every step of the way. A couple of my close teammates calling, checking in every day. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what I would have been feeling at that time.”


 

Mark says, Jesus took her by the hand, and raised her up, and the fever left her.


Make no mistake – it is a miracle! But the impact is deeper than you may realize.


She was healed from this fever, by Jesus, for something!


Mark says, “And she began to serve them.”


Some will nod, assuming she was just returning to her expected role.


And some will bristle, angered at the assumption that serving is all a woman’s good for!


But that would be missing the rich history of the word diakoneo (“to serve, to minister”).


It is the same word Mark uses to describe the angels who waited on Jesus in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. It is the same word Jesus uses to describe his own work – “for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” And it is the same word Mark uses to describe the courageous women who did not flee but followed him all the way to the cross – those who “provided for him when he was in Galilee.”[6]


This is holy work!


But there’s more! One scholar writes, “The word diakonos literally means ‘to kick up dust’ — this is an active, practical, on-the-move, change-the-world sort of work.” So Peter’s mother-in-law “is the pioneer who blazes the trail for the anonymous woman who causes a little dust-up near the end of Mark’s Gospel by anointing Jesus.”[7] And she is the inspiration for dust kickers ever since – the sort of people who see it as their God-given calling to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world, to paraphrase one of the Great Ends of the Church.


Are you one of those people?


 

Lawrence Wood tells an adorable story. Don’t let that cause you to miss the punch at the end:


“Every summer these matriarchs would help to put on a church dinner. [One] woman couldn’t help out one year, having just had a hip replacement. I went to check on her a day before the dinner.


“They’re not using boxed potatoes, are they?” she demanded. “The people who come expect potatoes made from scratch.”


“They’re planning to peel potatoes all morning,” I said.


[And then, to try and calm her down] I asked if she had always enjoyed cooking, and to my surprise, she adamantly said no, that cooking was a big chore.


“Really? I thought you enjoyed doing this.”


“I don’t love the potatoes,” she said. “Really, young man, you should know I love Christ, and there are only so many ways a body can do that.”[8]


Like Peter’s mother-in-law, like the potato peelers, we’ve been touched by Jesus for something: specifically, our love of Jesus calls us to serve! But if I may quibble with Wood’s parishioner, there are lots of ways a body can do that! All you have to do is find yours! Amen


[1] “Christ Healing Peter's Mother-in-Law” by Rembrandt
[2] From “The First Deacon”, his reflection on the text for Christian Century, 1/27/09
[3] From “What Freedom is For”, a reflection on the text by the SALT project, 1/30/24
[4] From her song, “Somebody’s Somethin’”
[5] Here and following, from his interview with Kate Bowler, see https://katebowler.com/podcasts/made-to-belong/#transcript
[6] See Mark 1:12, 10:45, and 15:41
[7] Also from “What Freedom is For” referenced above
[8] Also from “The First Deacon” referenced above

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